It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas out there -- the trees, the lights, the music. But with the holiday season comes the inevitable cries that secularists are continuing their so called "War on Christmas" -- the de-Christianization of the season. But now a new war on Christmas is being launched by a surprising group -- pastors themselves.
To be precise, the folks at the Advent Conspiracy have declared war on the commercial aspects on the holiday, not the religious part.
"It's the shopping, the going into debt, the worrying that if I don't spend enough money, someone will think I don't love them," says Portland pastor Rick McKinley. "Christians get all bent out of shape over the fact that someone didn't say 'Merry Christmas' when I walked into the store. But why are we expecting the store to tell our story? That's just ridiculous."
According to a report on Time magazine's Web site, McKinley came up wih the idea for a different war on Christmas four years ago, when he was sitting around with some of his pastor friends and they realized they were all dreading Christmas. "None of us like Christmas," he said, adding, "That's sort of bad if you're a pastor."
Instead of helping their congregations focus on the season of Advent and the birth of Christ, the pastors found themselves competing with consumerism.
So McKinley and his friends decided to try a radical experiment. They urged congregants to spend less on presents for friends and family, and to consider donating some of the money they saved as a result. At first, church members weren't quite sure how to react. "Some people were terrified," remembers McKinley. "They said, 'My gosh, you're ruining Christmas. What do we tell our kids?'" The pastors had to reassure people that they weren't advocating a Grinchy no-gifts kind of Christmas, but rather one in which people spent a little less and thought a little more, expressing their love through something more meaningful than a gift card. Once church members adjusted to this new conception of Christmas, they found that they loved it. Many, in fact, seemed relieved to be given permission to slow down and buy less.
The movement is catching on. Hundreds of churches on four continents and in at least 17 countries have signed up to participate, thanks in part to a viral campaign that has seen its YouTube video reach more than a million viewings:
In the past four years, Advent Conspiracy churches have donated millions of dollars to dig wells in developing countries. McKinley points out that a fraction of the money Americans spend at retailers in the month of December could supply the entire world with clean water.
Time goes on to say:
In many ways, the Advent Conspiracy movement has appropriated some of the traditional arguments of the conservative Christians who see themselves as defenders of Christmas. A popular rallying cry of the foot soldiers in the war on Christmas is, "Jesus is the reason for the season." Often, however, it seems that being able to score a half-price Nintendo DSi and a "Merry Christmas" from the checkout clerk is the real prize. The Religious Right has spent decades casting secular culture as the enemy. And yet instead of critiquing the values of the consumer marketplace, many conservative Christians have embraced it as the battleground they seek to reclaim.
A movement like the Advent Conspiracy is countercultural on two fronts - not just fighting the secular idea that Christmas is a month-long shopping and decorating ritual, but the powerful conservative notion that the holiday requires acknowledgement from the nation's retailers to be truly meaningful. It's not easy, says one youth pastor whose church is part of the Advent Conspiracy. "When you start jacking with people's idea of what Christmas is and you start to go against this $450 billion machine of materialism and consumerism, it really messes with people," he explains. "It takes a lot of patience to say there's a different way - Christmas doesn't have to be like this."